I have always loved the nighttime. During the day, people are so inhibited, but under the cover of darkness, people are often compelled to act more genuine. lê thị diễm thúy’s novel The Gangster We Are All Looking For explores this elucidating effect of darkness. Gangster tells the story of a young girl’s experience as a Vietnamese refugee with her father, Ba, and four ‘uncles’ following the Vietnam war. The first chapter of the book, “Suh-top,” features a series of vignettes from the narrator’s first couple months in America. Lê utilizes imagery of lightness and darkness to convey the narrator’s emotions of displacement during her first couple moments in an unfamiliar country.
While the narrator and her family drive over to their new home in America, she describes her new surroundings as “unfamiliar brightly lit streets” (lê 4).The lamps on the streets create artificial light. Although light usually has connotations of happiness and rebirth, in this context, has a fake effect. This reflects that while the narrator may be grateful for the opportunity America has given her, she cannot experience true lightness, or happiness, in a non-artificial way due to her displacement from her home and family. The fact that these streets are unfamiliar creates a feeling of alienation and dejection, which is juxtaposed with this intrusively ‘positive’ light, creating an uncomfortable contrast. This also reflects the characters’ feelings of discomfort, as they are out of place in America in the way light stands out in the dark.
After driving through the streets, they are “delivered to a sidewalk in front of a darkened house” (le 4). The fact that the house is not described as dark, but “darkened,” insinuates that the nighttime is darkening the house. However, the “darkening” also reflects the narrator’s state of mind. The artificial light from the lamps is gone, and she is forced to face the reality of the situation that is presented to her. It is also foreshadowing to her experiences in the home, which are mostly negative. This inauspicious start to her experiences in the house immediately paint the it as a place of suffering and darkness.
It is ironic that although earlier the streets were lit up, they were obscuring the reality of their situation as dark and dismal. In this sense, darkness allowed the characters to see their condition as it actually is. By contrasting images of lightness and darkness, lê foreshadows the characters’ situations throughout the rest of the chapter. B3.
le thi diem thuy. The Gangster We Are All Looking For. Anchor Books, 2004.